Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Holiday Gift Guide for grown-up Disney fans!

Have you got a grown-up Disney fan in your life? Wondering what to get them? Well, you could just give them the newest DVD they haven’t got yet, but there’s a few little things you could get that shows that you really put some thought into it. I’ve put these in an order of somewhat cheap to the more expensive end of the spectrum.

Lush bath bombs: They can make anyone feel like a princess, by their mere presence in a bath. They’re cheaper than most people think, too. Three can make a nice gift, without spending much over £10. As for which ones, what about Frozen (themed after the obvious) or So White (Snow White themed)? You can combine them with a bubble bar such as Pop in the Bath (Mary Poppins themed) or a soap such as Snowcastle?

A Disney cookbook like this one: Great for those who like to cook, and those who like to eat. Next time you have a Disney movie marathon, convince them to make one of the recipes in this book. Conversely, if you’re the good cook, bake them a Disney-inspired treat and wrap it up neatly. Everyone appreciates a home-made gift.

The book a movie was based on: How about a really nice edition of Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland, 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith or The Hunchback of Notre Dame? If you look into it, there are a surprising amount of books that inspired Disney movies, and some you don’t even realise came from a book. You’re bound to find something here they don’t have.

Disney Christmas decorations: I’ve seen a lot of really nice Disney decorations. From dangling, small figures of characters, to packs of adorably cute baubles, you can find most things with a Disney twist. Why not see if you can go all the way and slowly add more things to their tree over the years?

Disney nail wraps from Jamberry: I think most female Disney fans would love these, even if they don’t spend much time on their appearance. Since they’re stick on nail wraps, they should be easy to use and then they can feel a little happier every time they look at their nails. The variety here is, again, impressive, and no doubt include one of their favourite movies. Also, these come in smaller sizes, too. Perfect if a younger Disney fan wants to match with an older one!

Disney make-up collections: For the person who does spend more time on their appearance. There have been quite a few good quality Disney make-up sets released, but most of them are limited edition. If you look around a bit, you can find some before they go out of stock.

Disney Showcase Collection: These are decent-sized resin figures of Disney characters. The range is quite extensive, so they will most likely have one of your fan’s favourite characters in there somewhere. The detail on these is exquisite, as is the crafting. Some follow the dress design of the film character exactly, others embellish it somewhat, and still more only use it for inspiration, but I’m always impressed when I see these figures either on my shelf or in a shop. They have several of the princesses, many of the villains, a "masquerade" themed set, a twenties themed set, and still many others!
My personal collection is a small sample of the whole collection, but I
hope this gives you some idea of the detail in these figures.
Disney Pandora/Chamila bracelet: It can be hard to find Disney jewellery that works for an adult, and they can build up more charms over time. You could either theme it around one character they like, or get them a selection. This one can be expensive, since you would need to buy a good few beads as well to make it viable, so perhaps best as the one big, special gift.

Once you have one, wrap it up in Disney paper and leave it under the tree for them! And if all else fails, I guess none of us would say no to an all expenses paid trip to the parks! All joking aside, you know your friends best. If they have a collection of tsum tsums, you could always buy them a few more, or start their collection off if they have a soft spot for stuffed toys.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Reviews of London: A Review of the Peter Grant Series

The Peter Grant series follows a policeman called Peter Grant who is a constable in the London Metropolitan Police. However, he also happens to be a junior wizard, in apprentice to a wizard much older than he is. He joins a department of the London Met dedicated to investigating anything that could be considered supernatural. The result is a blend of crime and urban fantasy that plays like a mystery genre novel. I'd compare it to Neverwhere in as far as both are fantasy stories set in London, except that the similarities end there. Well, apart from the fact that they are both really good.

There are six novels in the series so far (Rivers of London, Moon over Soho, Whispers Underground, Broken Homes, Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree) as well as a few companion graphic novels. Rivers of London is known as Midnight Riot in the USA.

Getting to read about London is a very high point for me. Ben Aaronovitch knows the city inside out and has done a lot of research, and I love to find out more about one of my favourite cities. As someone who has a cursory knowledge of London, I like it when I can picture the action taking place in a location I’ve been to. Aaronovitch also did his research into the inner working of the Met, to such an extent that many real-life coppers have expressed surprise that he isn’t a copper himself.

The series celebrates the diversity of London amazingly well. To do anything less would be an injustice to London itself, as one of the most diverse cities in the world. Our protagonist himself is mixed-race, in one of the books we meet a police officer called Sahra Guleed who describes herself as a “Somali Muslim ninja” and Peter often gets help from people who live on his old estate, many who have non-British ancestry. But nowhere is this more beautifully shown then in the two Gods of the Thames. One is a Nigerian Goddess who moved to London in the 60’s and one is known as “The Old Man of the Thames” who was in charge back when London was Londinium, Roman settlement. It really is the meeting of both sorts of London, the old, historic London and the modern cosmopolitan city.

The series uses shout-outs liberally, but they aren’t as obnoxious as they could be, much of which is due to how wide-ranging the references can be. Part of the joy is in recognising a shout-out when it’s made. They run the gamut from the predictably common references to a series as popular as Harry Potter (given the premise of the series, it’s had to avoid) to obscure in-jokes about more popular works (the sort where you would have to know the work well to get the joke) to altogether obscure works. Since Peter is an avowed geek, the references come from every aspect of geek culture, too.

These books always keep you on your toes with twists and turns around every corner. You will be wondering who’s the next person to hide secret magic powers, what supernatural creature Peter will run into next, and where the next fae enclave is.

I do have to talk about one aspect of these books I don’t like – scenes of a sexual nature. I’m not a big fan of sex scenes in any book, and how they are written in this series makes me feel uncomfortable. I tend to gloss over these pages as fast as I can.

I recommend this series to anyone with a love of fantasy, especially urban, anyone who loves a good detective mystery, and anyone who likes stories set around London.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Top Five Disney Movies!

In honour of Moana’s release (sometime this week, or yesterday depending on where you live) I have compiled my list of top five favourite Disney movies!
  1.  Lady and the Tramp: this was actually the first film I ever saw in the cinema, on a rerelease, and I do like it because of that level of nostalgia. I also hold this film responsible for my childhood love of both dogs and spaghetti and meatballs. I also like how surprisingly dark it is for a Disney movie, too. Try and imagine this film with humans. That’s a plot that Disney would not go for, and also would not be acceptable in the time period this film was released in. Since the main characters are all dogs, though, people don’t tend to realise that. On the other hand, so many scenes in this movie are utterly charming and sweet that I can’t help but get happy when I watch it.
  2. Mulan: I can also remember seeing this at the cinema, when it first came out! I really liked it even then, but I may not have fully understood its nuances. It’s another one with a surprisingly dark plot, with whole villages being massacred and the main character killing almost the entire enemy army on her own. I like movies that could fall into more than one genre, and this one qualifies – comedy, action, romance, drama. I also find Mulan’s desire to find somewhere she fits in quite relatable. “To prove I could do something right” as she puts it, and I think everyone can relate to that in some way. Mulan is also a fantastic heroine. I don’t believe she was the only – or even the first – Disney heroine to be the hero of her own story, but she was a hero in her own right.
  3. Sleeping Beauty: Fantastic animation, and one of my favourite villains in all of Disney. Some beautiful song. I’m struggling to come up with another reason for it to be on this list, but honestly, do I need a reason other than those three?
  4. Cinderella: I like Cinderella as a protagonist. She is a lot stronger than people give her credit for, and surprisingly sarcastic. You know how people talk about “The first Princess with personality?” Well, I believe that started with Cinderella here. She didn’t just wait around for the Prince to save her, she tried to work so she could get to the ball in time. She wanted to go to the ball to enjoy herself, and I don’t even think meeting the Prince crossed her mind. She never gave up hope, and kept dreaming. She kept her good-natured optimism the whole time while stuck in an abusive house, and that takes some serious strength.
  5. Frozen: I know, I’m putting the most popular Disney movie of recent memory on this list, sue me. It has three of my favourite songs in Disney. I love the movies focus on female friendships. Olaf may be the best Disney sidekick ever, or at least my favourite, and doesn’t annoy me like some do. Hans as a villain feels like he crawled out of Game of Thrones. And the snow and ice animation is awesome, particularly the scene where Elsa builds her ice castle.

    Honourable mentions: Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and Hercules. So, what are your top five favourite Disney movies?

Monday, 21 November 2016

The Review Chronicles: A Review of The Lunar Chronicles

The Lunar Chronicles is a series of fairy-tale retellings with a sci-fi theme. There are four main books – Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter – and two companion novels, Fairest and Stars Above. I love anything to do with fairy tales and the quickest way to get me to read something is to tell me there is a princess in it. I also like sci-fi, so this series is a blend of my two favourite things.

Cinder works well to set the theme, by going with one of the most well-known fairy-tales. The sci-fi aspects and world around her is intricately crafted. It feels like the world was made first, then the characters placed inside it. Most everyone will find themselves working out the big twist before Cinder does, but that works too, as the reader starts to wonder when she'll find out and what she'll do when she does. It’s a lot darker than idealistic fairy-tale settings, but the overall message of the series is one of hope, of the actions of the few benefiting the many, of love and friendship conquering all. Okay, not that last one so much, but the girls’ quest would have been much harder if they didn’t have each other and their respective love interests.

I feel Scarlet suffers because a reader picking it up just after finishing Cinder may be more interested in Cinder’s story of being a fugitive on the run, rather than Scarlet’s attempts to rescue her Grandmother, until towards to end where both stories come together. I found myself more excited to read Cinder’s parts of the story in Scarlet. Cress and Winter avoid this pitfall by tying into the larger overall story earlier in their respective books. The fact that both had cameos in earlier books helps the reader feel more intrigue towards them, too. This isn't to say that Scarlet is a bad book, as when the stories come together, they do it well.

Cress is perhaps my personal favourite of the four. The overarching story is starting to build up, and we’re properly introduced to Cress. This one hits the ground running, with Cress starting in her satellite where she hacks into the databases of governments on Earth. She quickly gets embroiled in the story of the other girls

When you start reading Winter, set yourself aside a good few afternoons to read it. It’s long. However, never once did I feel like it was too long or overly bloated. Everything in it served to contribute to the overall story, and to develop the characters and build up the world around it.

As a set of fairy-tale retellings, there is obviously some romance there, too. There are four different pairings over the course of the books, and each one is well-written and believable. I found myself routing for each one of them. The lack of love triangles is to the series absolute benefit.

I love how each of the four girls are different from each other. They all have different talents and personalities. Cinder is a mechanic, who deals with her situations with a good helping of snark. She is also a teenage girl in way over her head, in a situation she never asked for, dealing with things she should never have had to. Scarlet is a farm girl with a business head on her shoulders and is awesome with a shotgun. Cress has many anxieties and doubts in herself, but she’s also a programmer and hacker unparalleled by most governments. Winter is the nicest girl you could ever meet, and her sweet nature helps them get many people on their side.

I highly recommend this series to anyone who likes fairy-tales, anyone who likes romances, and anyone who likes sci-fi. While the premise might put some people off, the sci-fi elements are really well done and blended into the story. Really, though, it’s a great series that I’d be happy to recommend to anyone who likes good stories.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Fantastic Movies and Where to Find Them: A Review of Fantastic Beasts

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a spin-off from a movie series called Harry Potter. I assume I don't need to tell you much about the story of those films. Fantastic Beasts is a little more unusual, in that it's not directly based on a book. The book with the same name is actually a published version of the textbook that Scamander writes mostly before the events of this movie. It was nice for me to see a Harry Potter movie where I wasn't bothered by inaccuracies at every turn. I also don't believe you'd need to have much experience with the Harry Potter series to enjoy this movie.

There is a fantastic movie here, buried under layers of exposition about the magical community in America. As someone who likes to know everything I possibly can about fantasy worlds, I didn't mind that so much. There's still plenty of action and comedy though, for those who prefer that. It also touches on more serious elements of the universe.

The film combines the visual style of the Harry Potter movies, the wonder of New York City, some beautiful special effects and the aesthetics of the 1920's to make a movie that is a real visual treat. Some scenes are just awesome, like the inside of Scamander's bag, which reminded me of the first time we stepped foot in Diagon Alley. Others have a darker feel more reminiscent of the later movies. But the film always managed to remain it's own thing, connected to yet distinct from the wider Harry Potter canon.

The movie uses it's characters to great effect. Newt being a newcomer to America and a Muggle (sorry, No-Maj) protagonist helps us to learn along with the protagonist in the same way as Harry Potter. Eddie Redmayne pulls of a delightful role as the protagonist, and the American cast play well together, but the stand-out role here has to go to Ezra Miller.

The movie also doesn't bog itself down with references to the first Harry Potter series, either. They are present, but infrequent. This helps the movie stand as its own thing and not just a part of the Harry Potter franchise. I can point to a few sequels and spin-offs within the last few years that did throwback every little thing to the original movies every time it possibly could. While it works in some cases, but not in others, it was for this one's benefit that it didn't tie it into Harry's journey too much.

The twist (Graves is Grindelwald, which is sort of obvious when he gives a necklace with the sign of the Deathly Hallows necklace to a young boy) might be easy to see coming for anyone with a small background knowledge in Harry Potter, but getting to piece the threads together early is part of the fun. I will say that it suffers from "prequel syndrome" where we know how events of this movie play out because of facts we can extrapolate from the original. But the suspense then comes from finding out how they will prevent the events from happening!

All in all, I give this movie 4/5, and a final word of "watch it in theatres" because I'm doubtful if the visual effects will look quite as good on a smaller screen.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Harry Potter and the Ranking of the Books and Movies

In honour of Fantastic Beasts coming out later this week, I thought I would rank the Harry Potter books and movies in order of which ones I most enjoy. This is my own opinion on which books/movies I liked best, not a definitive ranking on which one is better. There will be spoilers, as it is hard for me to write a review on this series without spoiling parts of them. I am one of those people who would watch an 18 hour movie with every scene in the books left in, and am very picky with the movies. Also, this turned out long, so enjoy!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Victoria Sandwich Recipe

Here is my instructions for making a Victoria Sandwich. It's one recipe I believe everyone should learn, as it is simple yet versatile. You can make it for charity bake sales or visits from friends. This has the effect of making bake sales in England have about five of these for sale. But in America, you can brag about your traditional British cake! Also, you can leave out the jam and use flavoured icing, and it's easy enough to turn the basic recipe into a chocolate one, too. The recipe is under the cut!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

On Being Half-Irish but not Really

“I’m half-Irish” I tell people who ask.
“Half-English, half-Irish,” I say with a smile on my face.

Sometimes, I wonder about my connection to Ireland. It’s tenuous at best. My Grandfather was Irish, but my Grandmother was Welsh, and even though they settled down in Ireland (Northern Ireland at that), they travelled all over the world while my father was growing up. He was born in Germany on a British Overseas military base, and lived most of his life in Singapore. As a result, he has no Irish accent. I myself was born in Bristol and have lived in England my whole life.

I don’t have the stereotypical ginger hair, although some of my family members do. I have brown hair and brown eyes, which I’ve heard come from my Grandmother. I look so much like my father that it gets commented on a lot. I’ve been mistaken for European before, which confuses me. My skin burns easily, but with a slight tan I look Mediterranean? I’m not sure, since I wouldn’t say so myself.

At least my last name is so obviously Irish that it is instantly recognisable when mentioned. “Oh, you must be Irish!” a lot of people say. I smile, and bring out the reply “Half-Irish.” I’ve been to Northern Ireland once to visit relatives, but that’s it. I do know an aunt of mine, my father’s sister, was in Omagh during the bombing. She’s actually got the Irish accent that most of my family lack. She’s also about the only family member still living in Northern Ireland.

I guess what I’m asking here is, does anyone else have a part of their heritage they feel somewhat distant from?

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Places I Want to Revisit

This is sort of a second post to my post on Sunday. It's all places I've been to before, that I would like to go back to at some point in my life.

  1. DisneyWorld – when I went to DisneyWorld, I was seven. I’d like to go back now to experience it in a different way, and be able to do my own thing. With my parents, we stayed offsite and rarely ate in a Disney restaurant. I'd like to go and plan out a full Disney experience, and combine it with a visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  2. Paris – I’ve been to Paris twice now. Once when I was 12 on a school trip, and once very recently. As it turns out, there’s still a lot in Paris I haven’t done yet (for example, the Palace of Versailles and Notre Dame) and a lot of what I’ve done before I want to do again. Plus, so many of the streets are incredibly beautiful even just to walk down. And I know a lot of people rave about French cuisine, but it is the originator of some of my favourite food (moules mariniere, macarons and quite a few other patisserie dishes)
  3. New York City – another one I did when I was very much younger, and with my parents. I just like to have the opportunity to re-experience things on your own (I am very much an advocate of travelling on your own).  This is a city that changes almost as fast as it moves, and the city would probably be unrecognisable to me now as the one I went to when I was younger. It really is a place where you can eat in almost every country in the world without leaving the city, and I'd love to go for the food alone.
  4. London – is it weird to list your own capital on a list like this? Still, London is my favourite city in the world. Just passing through it tends to put a spring in my step. There’s so much to do that every time I go, I get to do something new. I love watching a West End musical and rather like strolling down the South Bank.
  5. India - The reason this is a whole country is that I visited a few different parts of India on my last trip (New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Manali) but only visited most of these places briefly. Also, it was on a school trip, which didn't give me as much freedom to look around by myself as I like. I'd like to visit the places I'd been to before and 

        Do you have any places you would like to revisit?